Monday, August 5, 2013

Expressing Feelings: should we or shouldn't we?

After a small conversation on Facebook, I want to write again about depression. And about how our culture makes life so much harder than is necessary for those of us who suffer from it.

As I child growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was told off and punished for showing my feelings. If I got angry, I was not shown how to express it in an acceptable way, but rather, I was smacked and sent to my room. If I was unhappy, I wasn't smacked, but I was sent to my room until I 'cheered up' and wasn't going to spoil everyone else's day with my long face. I even remember being  happy and dancing around the house, and being told to "go be happy somewhere else, I'm not in the mood." Thanks, Mum.

So when I was depressed at age 16, it took a while before I told anyone. In fact, it was only after I spent a couple of hours waiting by the railway track for a train to throw myself under, that I finally asked for help - you know that you are a total loser when the train fails to show up.

My mother took me to our GP, who told me to pull myself together and stop upsetting my poor mother or he'd send me to Tokanui (psychiatric hospital) and make sure I got electric shock treatment. Message: don't show your feelings. No one else wants to know about them. Or in today's terms - just harden the fuck up.

So I spent the next 35 years suffering from bouts of depression. And my husband and sons suffered too. No one else really wanted to know. Especially as I had nothing to be miserable about, not like___________ (fill in the blank with just about anyone else's name.) I had several more episodes where I came very close to suicide, but I'd learned my lesson well - I had no right to these feeling, I had no right to upset others, I had no right to put myself out of my misery. I guess I'm glad - life is so good now.

Anyway, at age 50 I asked for help again, with encouragement from three friends. Counselling certainly helped a bit, but then the counsellor told me she couldn't help me any more, that I was now as well as I was ever going to be. Which was pretty depressing in itself, because I didn't feel that much better.

So I struggled along for another 10 years, better than I had been, but still fighting the Black Dog a lot of the time. Three years ago I had another major depressive episode, which for the first time included major anxiety and a panic attack. I got help - I've gone into that before, so suffice to say, I am better now than I can remember ever having been.

I believe that some people have a tendency towards depression, but that environmental factors also play a large part. For me, I have discovered that dietary factors have a big effect on my state of mind.

But most of all, the lessons I learned as a small child, and which have been reinforced by others (including my parents, my doctor, and 'friends') for decades, made it incredibly difficult for me to ask for help. How much happier would my life have been - and the lives of my husband and sons - if I had gotten help when I was sixteen? Or twenty six? Or thirty six? Or forty six?

I have tried not to teach my children that they should hide their feelings from others or themselves. I didn't want them to suffer as I have. I want them to feel able to express their feelings and ask for help if they need to. I don't want them to be told to harden the fuck up - nor to be told that they are 'gay' for expressing positive feelings. It doesn't matter that it's a friend and 'it's a joke' - every time it is another twig on the fire that burns the soul for those of us who are not comfortable with our own being.


The Professional Countrywoman said...

HI Cally - I found your blog through Robert Guyton's. I hope you don't mind me posting a comment. It's a funny medium isn't it - a blog? I have one in the early stages and still finding my way round it but it is a window into people's lives.
I appreciated what you had to say about expressing feelings. I don't suffer from what you have been through (I wonder if personality type plays a role in that?) but I have a friend who has and I am never quite sure how to help her. Chemical imbalance plays a big role for her and she has sought help in many avenues. My brother is a believer in taking medication and I just spent the weekend with him. He has obviously found something that suits him.

Anyway - thanks for posting and wishing you all the best.

Cally said...

Thank you - it's always nice to get a response :) I'm pretty good now, thanks to diet changes and treatment for leaky gut, but I was riled up at the time of writing when someone made a 'how gay' comment in response to a very happy, loving post one of my sons made on Facebook.

The Professional Countrywoman said...

Glad to hear you are good now. The down side of mass communication mediums like FB etc is that you have a whole lot of, quite frankly, savages out there who don't know how to behave and spill their toxic comments over everyone. Its a crazy old world out there in e-land! May your son long continue to write happy loving posts!

I love your book list. I have 2 for you. Just reading a beautifully written memoir called " The Kitchen Congregation" by Nora Seton. My other favourite which I don't think I saw on your list was "Dirt" by Willian Bryant Logan. Great thoughtful and well written reads. All the best!

Anonymous said...

I feel expressing is not about what we think it’s all about what we feel. We give our ideas our thoughts about how to communicate but we never say anything about how to express, the more u share the more your life will be meaningful & happy. I created my own blog about expressing feelings, my blog name is share your feelings too.